I’m late, I’m late… I was on a professional development trip and I just couldn’t get the last post of the month out. I needed to redeem the time a little better, apparently.
So here we go: Redemption. First I’ll just tick off a few reflections:
- Normally I’m uncomfortable with reasoning directly from individual biblical words to a resultant systematic theological point (pp. 69–70). Just because redemption, reconciliation, renewal, and regeneration start with “re-” doesn’t mean that the Bible predicts a restoration of the originally good creation. Let’s not reason right from words but see if the Bible says this in sentences and paragraphs. But, in fact, the chapter goes on to prove that the Bible does in fact say what Wolters is saying, so the concurring evidence of a lot of re- words is indeed helpful to note (nevermind that not all the underlying Greek words Wolters points to have the equivalent of a re- prefix).
- Good quote: “Redemption is not a matter of an addition of a spiritual or supernatural dimension to creaturely life that was lacking before; rather, it is a matter of bringing new life and vitality to what was there all along.” (p. 71)
- The second biblical text Wolters cites in the chapter is an extremely important proof for his view, and it’s one to hold onto and mull over. “Through Christ God determined “to reconcile to himself all things [Col 1:20].’” God isn’t merely going to rescue people out of this sin-cursed earth and then leave it all to burn; He’s going to fix everything the fall broke.
- Which brings us to another key statement to hold on to: “The scope of redemption is as great as that of the fall; it embraces creation as a whole.” (p. 72) There is no neutral ground: either Satan rules a particular square inch of this world or God does. And in the end all things will be submitted to the Son (1 Cor 15:27–28).
But now I hit a little wall. Wolters says that the “obvious implication” of what he’s saying is “that the new humanity (God’s people) is called to promote renewal in every department of creation.” (p. 73) Okay… Fine. But is that really what Paul was talking about when he said that God had given him “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18)? Wolters thinks so, but in that context people—not kitchens, bedrooms, and boardrooms—are the ones being reconciled. Right?
Here’s how I get over that wall: I do think people are the most important objects of God’s redemptive work through Christ. We are the only part of creation that bear His image, so we have higher value than many sparrows (though there’s humor in that line in Matthew 10, it’s surely still true on its face). But sparrows do have value, and so does all the rest of God’s green earth. God has not given up on His creation and will not. We dare not give up on it if He won’t.
The kingdom of God is among us (Luke 17:21), but we are to pray that it will fully get here (Matt 6:10). And meanwhile Wolters is right to call all Christians to press the claims of God’s kingdom everywhere they find themselves, everywhere God calls them. Most of us are not standing in pulpits. We’re in kitchens, bedrooms, and boardrooms. Those are not neutral territories; we have to attempt—in the power of God, following His word—to claim them for Christ.
But if your background is like mine, you are still suspicious. Isn’t it the case that many individual conversions are the only way that any domain of culture will actually be reclaimed? Won’t Rachel Ray and Emeril Lagasse (and whoever makes KitchenAid mixers) need to get saved before we can reclaim the American kitchen for Christ? Won’t pretty much everyone in the U.S. need to get saved before we can reclaim the bedroom? And won’t most corporations have to move to China before we can bring the American boardroom under Christ’s rule? Why bother talking about redeeming culture at all when that is so clearly a fruitless task? Those who are more eschatologically sophisticated may add, “Why polish the brass on this sinking ship?” (like the Christian school teacher I had many years ago who sniffed at the very idea of recycling).
For one thing, Wolters has made it clear in previous chapters that the Bible points to God’s goodness as being everywhere in creation. “Some element in every situation is worth preserving.” (p. 93) Jesus could tell even the dead church at Sardis, “Strengthen what remains” (Rev 3:2).
For another thing, Wolters is not recommending “violent overthrow” but what he calls “progressive renewal.” (p. 91) That progress will feature lots of individual conversions. And one of his major illustrations—that the resurrection was like D-Day—assumes that renewal will not be easy and linear. Wolters is not a postmillennialist who believes things will get better and better until Jesus comes.
This is where Michael Goheen’s contribution in the Postscript comes in. He incorporates the storyline of Scripture, the importance of the Great Commission, and the reality of suffering in this time of overlap between the age that is passing away and the one that is to come. “The church, as a preview of the kingdom, shows actual ‘footage’ of what the kingdom will look like to interest unbelievers in the future.” (p. 132) You and I are a trailer for the coming attraction.
So whether or not our work for the kingdom seems to endure or get destroyed the day (or even a century) after we do it,* whether or not our work ever turns the tide in any domain of human culture (family, politics, business, art, education, etc.), whether or not we face suffering for our attempts to oppose the powers ruling this age, we have a responsibility to exhibit and promote kingdom values. God said, “Fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:26-28). Jesus said, “All power is given unto me, so make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:18–20). These two commands are not in conflict. And we have work to do.
*I like what Jeremy Larson said in a book club comment about my old boss, Phil: “Regarding premillennialism and the Creation Mandate, my dad has said that when premils make comments like Mark made above (permanence or no, we have a duty to subdue), he’s happy to work with them.” Good.